Open Government Partnership Update
The Open Government Partnership is continuing its mission to shine light onto the everyday workings of local government, with several important appointments made to the steering committee at the network’s meeting in May.
Colm Burns, policy advisor for Pharmacy Forum NI, was appointed chairperson to Open Government Network, and Eleanor Brown, a retired medical practioner, was appointed vice-chairperson.
In addition, Building Change Trust appointed the NI Environment Link to the role of secretariat for the network.
The chairs will serve for the period of 1 year and the secretariat for the period of two years, working to enable and support the network in implementing its action plan.
The goal of the network is to advance the open government cause in Northern Ireland, which already lags behind other parts of the United Kingdom, according to the network founders.
One of the first orders of business for OGP will be to devise an action plan for the executive here.
“Northern Ireland is behind the rest of the UK in terms of action plans and engagement strategies,” said Colm Burns.
Adding: “In fact, the UK government is about consult on its third action plan. We need to ensure our executive understand the importance of Open Government and also have a creditable plan to increase transparency, participation and accountability in government".
The main themes of the action plan are to increase transparency in data, policy-making, budgeting and local government; as well as broaden participation in government and to grow the OG network.
“From an environmental point of view, non-transparent and flawed governance in Northern Ireland has had direct and negative impacts on our economy and society,” said Craig McGuicken of NI Environmental Link.
Setting achievable goals is an important part of the process, said Eleanor Brown. To that end, the group is planning a strategy day at the end of June.
Brown, a retired medical practioner and former trade union representative, said she came to the group first as a “concerned citizen,” having lobbied extensively in the campaign to save the Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry from closure.
“There’s still quite a distance to go in making the information readily available,” Brown said. “I think a lot of politicians want the information to be made public, but among civil service and the officers in local government there is still a culture of having a lack of transparency".
Ensuring rate-payers have access to local government meetings was cited as a priority for Brown.
“I hope to continue to empower the community in planning, opening up dialogues with local government officials and politicians. It’s reflective of what we want to do with the wider OG organisation in Northern Ireland”, she said.
Other priorities will be developing the structures of the OGN and raising awareness of the cause, which will be undertaken by NI Environment Link.
“We will be developing OGN communications and promotional material, liaising with MLA’s, councillors and government departments,” said Craig McGuicken, to help grow the network, establish a calendar of events and begin developing campaigns".
While changes are afoot with a new minister in Stormont and a new UK wide government, McGuicken expressed optimism, in particular about the publication of the open data strategy for Northern Ireland by Minister of the Department of Finance and Personnel, Arlene Foster.
“We anticipate ongoing support from the new minister as we seek to work in genuine collaboration with government and the NI Executive to ensure the strategy becomes part of a broader Open Government initiative.” He added: “One of our first tasks will be to write to the minister to request a meeting".